March 23: The cricket world’s deepest fears came true today as Jamaican police confirmed that Bob Woolmer was strangled to death in his hotel room, probably by one or more persons known to the Pakistan coach.
Growing suspicion that the match-fixing mafia was behind the murder cast a shadow over the World Cup on a day a big-ticket game pitted rivals from the subcontinent, the hub of the betting racket.
Former South Africa pacer Allan Donald put the hype over sporting success in perspective saying: “I just can’t believe that people can go to these lengths about a game of cricket”, and suggested the tournament be called off.
But International Cricket Council CEO Malcolm Speed said the event would be continued to “demonstrate that cricket cannot be put off by a cowardly criminal act”.
The police said Woolmer’s death was caused by “asphyxia as a result of manual strangulation” and his neck was broken. “Bob was a large man — it would have taken some force,” deputy commissioner Mark Shields said, adding that more than one person could be involved.
But one theory is that Woolmer may have been drugged first — suggesting a planned murder — and the toxicologist’s report is awaited.
With no sign of forced entry or a struggle, Shields said Woolmer most likely knew the attackers. “Common sense would dictate we start on the inside and work out.”
Pakistani players and officials were questioned and fingerprinted yesterday, and were to be DNA swabbed today, but team media manager Pervez Mir suggested this was to find out “who else” might have visited the 12th-floor room, No. 374.
The team’s departure, scheduled for Saturday, has been put off till Monday or Tuesday, a Pakistan board source said. The players have left Kingston for the resort of Montego Bay.
Although police officially said the team was free to leave, Islamabad announced it was sending a top diplomat, Khawar Zaidi, with a legal team to Jamaica.
Team manager Talat Ali denied his players were the “only suspects”. A former Pakistani player, tainted by the ’90s fixing scandal, claimed that phone numbers of several Indian and Sri Lankan players had been recovered from an arrested non-Jamaican suspect.
The police denied any “arrest” — first claimed by a Pakistani TV channel — but didn’t say if anyone had been detained.
Rumours flew about the theft of Woolmer’s laptop and the manuscripts of a book he had written, apparently revealing details of the match-fixing racket (see box). A team source said the coach had been “disturbed” about pages of a book he was writing having gone missing.
There are already whispers about foul play in Pakistan’s shock defeat by Ireland, which happened hours before Woolmer’s death.
A fan said the murder would stain cricket’s showpiece tournament. “No matter which team wins, Woolmer’s death will emerge the single most eventful thing that happened to this World Cup.”